Doctors and lawyers say gun violence is a public health issue

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LEAWOOD, Kan. -- A metro based physician's group is joining the chorus of voices trying to help reduce the rate of gun injuries and deaths.

The Leawood based American Academy of Family Physicians is part of the effort published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

When Calvin Neal was 17, he was part of a gang in St. Louis called the North Side Boys.

"A group rolled up on us and they jumped out and started shooting, we started shooting, and I got shot," said Neal, who was shot twice in the leg and arm.

Neal even spent ten years in prison after robbing a bank. Clearly, he's no stranger to gun violence.

"I recovered, I still have problems with my leg though," Neal added.

But at the very least Neal is still alive.

"Thirty-two thousand people a year are killed by fire arms in this country; that`s like one and a quarter fully loaded 747 airplanes falling out of the sky, crashing and killing everybody on board once a week," said Dr. Douglas Henley, the Executive Vice President and CEO for the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr. Henley and colleagues from eight medical associations and the American Bar Association published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine addressing the issue of fire arm safety and deaths in this country as a major public health issue.

"Unintended suicides, unintended accidents in the home and the community, because of children or others having access to fire arms that haven`t been stored from a safety standpoint," said Dr. Henley.

Dr. Henley says using public health approaches, like with tobacco, would help reduce unintended deaths from guns. He says one way to help this problem is by requiring background checks with all sales of fire arms, not just in gun shops.

Neal says he never owned a gun, but had access to several.

"They were all illegal," Neal said.

He said he and his gang stole guns from breaking and entering homes, among other ways.

"We would catch security guards off guard, pull guns on them, and take their gun," added Neal, who says loopholes still exist today.

"What happens now is a lot of the young men that are involved in gang activity or any other activity, they have the young women, who generally don`t have records, to go and purchase a gun under their name, and then come up with a story that the gun was stolen out of their house or out of their car," Neal said.

Neal says more educational programs might be more powerful than more laws.

Dr. Henley has published a similar article in the New England Journal of Medicine. It argues federal and state lawmakers have passed laws preventing physicians from discussing gun safety in the home with patients, particularly ones with kids. The doctor feels those conversations are important and should be part of the job description.

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